Bug o’the Week – A Species on the March

Greetings, BugFans,

In mid-July, the BugLady ran into BugFan Freda at an Ozaukee Washington Land Trust property at the west end of Lake Twelve.  Lake Twelve is famous because of the presence there of not one, but two rare (in Wisconsin) damselflies – the Slender Bluet and the Lilypad Forktail.  The bluet has been on and off of our state radar since 2007; the forktail was first recorded at Lake Twelve in 2017 but has been seen intermittently in Wisconsin since 2010.  Freda introduced the BugLady to both species.

A week later, when she was chasing dragonflies at one of her familiar haunts at the north end of the Cedarburg Bog, the BugLady photographed (badly) a suspicious-looking damselfly that turned out to be a mature female Lilypad Forktail (Ischnura kellicotti).

The species, originally called Kellicott’s forktail or Kellicott’s thin-tail, was first described in Entomological News, Vol 9 (1898).  Along with the dancers, bluets and sprites, forktails are in the Narrow-winged/Pond damselfly family Coenagrionidae; “forktail” refers to projections at the tip of the male’s abdomen.

The BugLady loves common names.  Sure, if you say Ischnura kellicotti anyplace in the world, there’s only one critter you could be talking about.  But common names – bestowed by the people who experience a species where the rubber hits the road – allude to an organism’s appearance, taste, toxicity, smell, squishiness, hairiness, prickliness, all of the above, and much more.  Lilypad forktails are named for their chosen habitat.

They are tied to a single group of plants – water lilies – a habit that is uncommon among Odonates.  So attached are they to water lilies that when they perch on one – and they seldom perch anywhere else – the tip of their abdomen is usually bent down to be in contact with it.  It’s not known whether this contact allows for support or for some kind of predator detection, and several authors speculated that the damselfly uses the bent tip as a springboard when it takes off, a la springtails.  Their relatively short legs keep them close to the leaves, and their weak flight carries them low, directly from leaf to leaf or from leaf to prey.  So attached are they that the female lays eggs into the water lily leaf and the naiad lives clinging to its underside, coming topside only when it’s time to emerge as an adult.  So attached are they that people who want to see one often must take to canoes or kayaks to get out to the lily pads, or must wade or swim.  So attached are they that people who want to net one find that netting the whole lily leaf works best.

Male forktails and male bluets are often blue and black – forktails may resemble the “black-type bluets” whose front and rear are blue, but whose abdomens are mostly black.  Lilypad Forktails are small, under 1 ¼”.  Like Eastern Forktails, most females start out gloriously red-orange (some females mimic the blue and black of males), and they fade to slate-blue as they reach reproductive age due to pruinosity – the deposit of “hoary” flakes on various parts of the anatomy.  In all stages, they have oversized “eyespots” on the back of the eye.  See nice pictures of all the “plumages” here, including a dark teneral with yellow wings and a naiad, https://www.marylandbiodiversity.com/viewSpecies.php?species=70.  Thanks to BugFan Freda for the face-to-face shot.

The Lilypad Forktail bears more than a passing resemblance to another damsel called the Skimming Bluet (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1401924/bgimage), which also likes lily pads (in fact, when she found the Lilypad Forktail at the Bog, the BugLady went back and checked all the pictures of male Skimming Bluets that she had ever taken to make sure they were correctly ID’d.  Then we add to the mix the (oxymononic) Orange Bluet https://bugguide.net/node/view/429646/bgimage, a lily pad-sitter that resembles orange female forktails.  And the pruinose, older female Lilypad Forktails https://bugguide.net/node/view/977359/bgimage that look a lot like pruinose, older female Eastern Forktails https://bugguide.net/node/view/1536326/bgimage (hey – if it were easy, it wouldn’t be so much fun, right?).  Lilypad Forktails are notably feisty and frequently chase Skimming and Orange Bluets.

Females of many species of odonates have an “I’m not in the mood” posture, and it often includes a down-turned abdomen.  Female Lilypad Forktails do not have or need such a signal; apparently, their habitual posture is enough and they don’t get hassled!

Lilypad Forktails have an odd range.  They are an eastern/southeastern species that, according to Paulson’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East, is found at lakes and ponds with lots of water lilies in states bordering the Atlantic from the Canadian Maritime Provinces (first record – 2017) to Florida, and then along the Gulf Coast to Texas, with tongues extending north toward the Midwest along the Mississippi River, and with some disjunct populations inland and around the south end of Lake Michigan.

What does it looks like when a species goes on the march and expands its range?  The BugLady sure wishes that every state had a dragonfly website as lovely and searchable as the Wisconsin Odonata Survey http://wiatri.net/inventory/odonata/.  In Wisconsin (and in some of the other states that it has been recorded in), the Lilypad Forktail is a Species of Special Concern, a watch list status based on a specie’s highly limited range and small numbers of populations, as well as an assortment of threats.  In the case of the forktail, it’s not being wiped out here, its numbers are low because it’s attempting to move in from outside the state.  Probably.

According to the Odonata Survey, it was first recorded in Walworth County on our southern border in 2010; in Sauk County (south-central) in 2013; in Rock County, also on the Illinois border, in 2014; in Washington County (south-central) in 2017; Washington and Walworth Counties in 2018; and Washington and next-door Ozaukee Counties this year.  In 2011, 2012, 2015, and 2016 it was not reported.

The BugLady attempted to check the status of the Lilypad Forktail is within its given range, which took much longer than it should have.  As has been lamented in these pages before, she is “key-word challenged” – things are seldom filed away where she would put them.  Plus, state dragonfly lists can be hard to find.  And some State Natural Heritage sites (the organizations that track sensitive species) are remarkably hard to navigate (you know who you are) or have lovely interactive pages where you can search lists of sensitive species by county or plant community/region but not by species (ditto).  And a number of states that she investigated apparently either have 100% A-OK insect populations or don’t track insect populations (ditto).  One of the states in its range, a state with only one known Lilypad Forktail location, “does not currently have state threatened and endangered species legislation.

Keeping in mind that it’s a small damselfly that looks an awful lot like another small damselfly, what did the BugLady find?  In coastal states south of Delaware, it’s not considered common (except, perhaps, for some local populations), but it’s not considered to be in trouble, either.  Away from that core range, it’s listed as “greatest conservation need” in Maine, Vermont, and Delaware, but “secure” just north of Delaware in New Jersey; “vulnerable” in Connecticut and in Oklahoma, where one site noted that owners of farm and recreational ponds in Oklahoma often consider water lilies to be a pest plant and eradicate them; “imperiled” in Pennsylvania; and “state endangered” in Ohio.  In other inland states in its range, its population levels are apparently not considered alarming enough to track.

Species advance – two steps forward here, one step forward there, fall back, regroup.  With a little help from our friends.

The BugLady

Bug o’the Week – Stilt-legged fly

Greetings, BugFans,

The BugLady had a “Stop the Presses” moment as she was writing this week’s BOTW.  When she hiked down to the mailbox, she saw a fly that she had never seen before, from a family she’s never seen before, skating over the top of a leaf, and she bumped it to the head of the line.  She photographed it badly, but here’s a good image https://bugguide.net/node/view/190234/bgimage.

In last week’s episode we considered a beetle that mimics a bumblebee; this is a fly that is imitating an ichneumon wasp https://bugguide.net/node/view/435323/bgpage (and no one messes with wasps), and some of its relatives are ant-mimics https://bugguide.net/node/view/84097/bgimage.

It’s a Stilt-legged fly/Small-footed fly in the family Micropezidae, a family with only about 30 species in North America and some 600 species worldwide (they’re a different bunch than the tiny, iridescent Long-legged flies https://bugguide.net/node/view/1543910/bgimage in the family Dolichopodidae).  Stilt-legged flies are most diverse in the tropics, where their larvae are dung-dwellers.  They’re famous for raising their short, front pair of legs so that they look like antennae as the flies walk around https://bugguide.net/node/view/789265/bgimage; their actual antennae are pretty short.  They live in damp and dappled wetlands and woods.  Kaufman, in hisField Guide to Insects of North America tells us to look for them “crawling slowly about the base of trees, or on low foliage.”

Micropezids feed on decaying organic matter or in plant roots as larvae (the larva of an Australian species lives in the water of a pitcher plant and eats decaying invertebrates that it finds there).  Some adults are predaceous and others eat rotting fruits and droppings of birds or other animals.  As a group, they fly below the radar, and there are a lot of gaps in our knowledge of their natural history.

This stilt-legged fly, Rainieria antennaepes (no common name), is the only Rainieria in North America.  According to bugguide.netantennaepes refers to the fly’s habit of passing off its legs as antennae.  It’s found east of the Rockies and into southern Canada.

Sometimes, as it walked around, the fly would bow its head down toward the leaf surface https://bugguide.net/node/view/1031146/bgimage, allowing it to suck up food with its forward-facing, “vacuum cleaner” mouthparts, which look like a tiny gas mask (see the last picture at https://sites.duke.edu/dukeinsects/insect-orders/diptera/taeniaptera-trivittata).

About its life history, the BugLady could find little – according to the website americaninsects.net, “Larvae often develop in decaying leaves or other rotting plant material. The pupa is made from the final larval skin, and so the pupa resembles the last larval instar.”

Even though parts of its life are a mystery, the BugLady found a number of videos featuring the adults.  In the first, even though the BugLady has admired The Early Birder’s great insect shots, the “semaphore” he refers to looks like grooming behavior to her https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ba3inwK11Ys.  Check out the video of a stilt-legged fly snacking on a bit of cheese at http://bugoftheweek.com/blog/2019/4/1/wasp-or-fly-stilt-legged-flies-mimetic-micropezidae, and this, from another of the “Bug of the Week” series out there http://blog.growingwithscience.com/tag/rainieria-antennaepes/.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Once Upon a Fungus

Greetings, BugFans,

When the BugLady was walking in the woods at Riveredge the other day, she found some plate-sized, stocky, very aromatic, gilled mushrooms growing out of the ground – possibly one of the (glorious name) Fetid Russulagroup.  They were pushing up under last year’s leaf litter; some were partly covered, but some were discernable only as an upward swelling of oak leaves.  The cap of the Russula is concave, so water and other stuff collects in it.  A microclimate.

She saw something moving on the rim of an “over-the-hill” fungus, and she had the good grace to think “what’s a bumblebee doing in a place like this?”  The AMERICAN CARRION BEETLE is counting on that reaction, and it enhances the illusion by buzzing its wings as it flies.  No-one messes with bumblebees.

Turns out there were a bunch of American Carrion beetles on that and other mushrooms, on the cap, and deep in the flesh and gills (she also photographed a half-dozen on some carnivore scat, but she may not be able to show that shot in polite company).

Carrion beetles have a fascinating lifestyle, which was chronicled in the early days of BOTW https://uwm.edu/field-station/carrion-beetles/.  They perform ecosystem services in the form of corpse-removal, but they also feed on rotting fungus and animal droppings.

[Sidebar: Russulas can be hard to tell apart; many are considered inedible, but some are mild enough to eat, and some have a spiciness that sneaks up on you (but remember: “There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters, but there are no old, bold mushroom hunters”).  They get their nutrients from the roots of trees.  Sometimes the mushrooms, which are the fruit of a large, underground system of mycorrhizal strands that connect with plant roots, grow in a straight line above a tree root.  Just as the fungi get their food from a tree root, the lovely, parasitic woodland flower Indian pipe (which was blooming in the woods, but not nearby) gets its nutrients from a variety of Russula hosts (for which the Indian pipes are dubbed “mycorrhizal cheaters”).  They’re not alone – beetles, slugs, some rodents and deer eat Russula mushrooms.]

When she looked at the mushrooms more closely, the BugLady discovered that there was more going on.  Along with the gang of American Carrion beetles were a few red-rimmed MARGINED CARRION BEETLES https://uwm.edu/field-station/margined-carrion-beetle/.

And, a GOLD AND BROWN ROVE BEETLE, which the BugLady swears is not luminescent, though the yellow hairs on its rear are iridescent.  Find its story here https://uwm.edu/field-station/gold-and-brown-rove-beetle/.

And, between the layers of oak leaves, an ANT NURSERY, with workers poised to rescue the eggs when, suddenly, their roof disappeared.

And a cloud of tiny flies, attracted to the mushroom by its very mushroomy odor.

And the exuvia (shed exoskeleton) of a spider that paused to molt there.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Summer Survey 2019

Salutations, BugFans,

The BugLady hopes that you’ve been getting out on the trail and drinking in the lushness of the summer.  If this heat and humidity are the “new normal,” we might as well get used to it.

Insect photography in summer uncovers the common themes of eating and reproducing (sometimes, in the case of ambush bugs, simultaneously).

Paper wasp –

A Northern paper wasp has a super power – she chews on plant materials, mixes the cellulose with saliva, and spits out paper that she forms into a hemispherical, “open-faced” nest (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1554212/bgimage) on plants and under eaves and porches; the large and dangerous football-shaped paper nests are made by bald-faced hornets.  Look for her on flowers, feeding on nectar and collecting small insects for the larvae.  Having collected prey, according to bugguide.net, “The wasp then malaxates, or softens the food and in doing so absorbs most of the liquid in the food. This solid portion is given to older larvae and the liquid is regurgitated to be fed to younger larvae.”  Bugguide also tells us that “P. fuscatus has unusually variable color patterns, allowing individual wasps to recognize each other’s faces.”

Planthopper nymph

Been seeing plant stalks that are a bit fuzzy these days?  It’s not your glasses – if you look closely, you’ll see that they are tiny bugs.  This one is the nymph of a planthopper, probably in the family Flatidae.  For more about them, meet the other (original) “Bug of the Week,” this one written by an actual entomologist: http://bugoftheweek.com/blog/2013/1/9/junes-snowfall-planthoppers-family-flatidae-missing-video.

Syrphid/hover/flower fly

Syrphid flies are bee mimics that can be found feeding harmlessly on nectar and/or pollen on flower tops.  The BugLady loves the exquisite patterns on their abdomens.  “Hover fly” comes from the males’ practice of hovering in the air, hoping to attract the attentions of a female.  They are great little pollinators.

Jumping spider meets syrphid fly

Jumping spiders are beautiful, bold little spiders that look you right in the eye and don’t back down (though they’re great at zipping around to the back of a leaf when they see a camera). Find out more about them at https://uwm.edu/field-station/jumping-spider/.  We all are, potentially, someone else’s lunch.

Syrphids again

When the BugLady photographed these delicate, green aphids, she did not notice the pale larva just north of them on the stem until she put the picture on the screen.  It’s the larva of a syrphid/hover/flower fly, and it eats aphids.  Death from above.

Land snail

It’s humid here by the lake – gotta’ keep moving or stuff will grow on you.  The wall-snail population is possibly a sign from the cosmos that it’s time to round up a pressure washer.  Or get more snails.

Ambush bug

The BugLady loves these small-but-mighty ambush bugs that hang out on flower tops and often take prey that’s much bigger than they are.  They grasp in firmly with their hook-like front legs and inject meat tenderizers.  Here, its catch is a sweat bee.

Rainbow Bluet

What’s a summer survey without an Odonate?  This incredible creature is about 1 ¼” long from his peachy face to the sky-blue tip of his abdomen.

Creepy aphids

First of all, this clump of aphids was being protected by some very alert ants, and when the BugLady brushed against the plant, she suddenly had about 20 ants on her hand and sleeve (she’s a wee bit ant-averse).  The ants were there for the honeydew secreted by the aphids, which is a staple in the diet of many ant species.  But then, the BugLady put the aphid picture up on the screen and saw the creepy “eyes.”  BugFan Freda pointed out that the aphids are plugged into the stem, drinking plant juices, and their eyes are facing down.  The glowy “eyes” are the twin tailpipes (cornicles) at the rear of the insect).  But still…..

Baltimore Checkerspot

Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillars feed on a late-blooming wetland plant called turtlehead.  In fall, the gregarious caterpillars make a communal web on their food plant and stay inside, inert, for the winter.  When they emerge in spring, they need to eat some more before they’re ready to form a chrysalis, but there’s no turtlehead around, so they pick alternate hosts, including white ash.

They’re spectacular with wings open https://bugguide.net/node/view/1245900/bgimage, and the caterpillars are orange and black, too https://bugguide.net/node/view/1076839/bgimage.  Orange and black were the colors of the livery worn by the servants of Lord Baltimore at the time that the early settlers were arriving in this country, and it’s his name, not the city’s, that’s attached to the oriole and the butterfly.

Thread-waisted wasp

Like the paper wasp, these wasps cruise the flower tops looking for nectar (she also finds sustenance in extra-floral nectaries – for the amazing EFN story, see https://uwm.edu/field-station/ants-in-my-plants/).  Solitary where the paper wasp is social, each thread-waisted wasp makes her own mud nursery for her offspring, and she provisions it with small insects and spiders, depending on her species.

The Black and yellow mud dauber (Sceliphron caementarium) (caementarium means “mason, or builder of walls”) is found in a big chunk of North America.  Her nest may contains about as many as 25 brood chambers (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1480753/bgimage), each cached with a few dozen spiders.

Black firefly

Fireflies (lightning beetles is a more accurate name) wow us with their nocturnal light show, blinking or streaking across the sky with a species specific signal to the females waiting below (https://uwm.edu/field-station/lightning-beetle-again/).  But, the Black firefly (Lucidota atra) is a day-flying firefly and would have to use a lot of energy to compete with the sun (males may glow briefly immediately after they emerge from their pupal case).  If he cannot glow, how does he woo?  By flying close to the ground, searching for the “perfume” of the pheromones released by the female.

EAB

The BugLady is sickened by the number of dead ash trees sticking out of wetlands and uplands, and this is the beetle that’s responsible.  The Emerald ash borer is an immigrant from northeast Asia that left its natural checks and balances at home.  Its larvae burrow in and feed on the living tissues just under the bark of an ash tree, creating squiggly tunnels called galleries.  Eventually, there are so many galleries that the tree’s “plumbing” is disrupted and it can’t move nutrients up and down the trunk.

Thanks to the EAB we have a new indoor sport during the Polar Vortex – figuring out whether it has gotten cold enough for long enough to kill the majority of the larvae.  Not yet.

Katydid nymph

With a little luck (OK – a lot of luck) this infant will grow up to be a good-sized bush katydid, probably this one https://bugguide.net/node/view/1275677/bgimage.  in the meantime, it looks like a tiny, jeweled creature.

Go outside – look for bugs!

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – Tree Crab Spider

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady was checking around the edge of a gravel parking lot near the Ozaukee Washington Land Trust’s Lake Twelve property (because there are bugs there, too) when she found this beauty (it took two trips and two different cameras to get a few almost-in-focus shots – sometimes it’s like that).

She had two immediate reactions: 1) what is it? And 2) it looks like an octopus clinging to a reef!

It’s a crab spider in the tree crab spider genus Tmarus, probably Tmarus angulatus (thanks, as always, to BugFan Mike).  Mike says that there are a few documented records of this species in Wisconsin, but they are probably more common, it’s just that we don’t typically hunt for spiders in trees.  And, of course, they seem to have the “camouflage” thing figured out.

Crab spiders (family Thomisidae), best known for the species that ambush insects on flower tops, are long-time favorites of the BugLady https://uwm.edu/field-station/an-album-of-crab-spiders/.  They get their name from their tendency to hold those four, extra-long front legs in a crab-like pose and for their tendency to move sideways.  Crab spiders don’t spin trap webs to catch their prey, they ambush it on the hoof.  They paralyze their prey and then introduce (bugguide.net says “vomit”) digestive enzymes into it, wait for its innards to soften, suck out the tenderized tissue, and throw away the empty.

They do spin silk, protecting themselves from a fall by playing out a drop line as they hunt, and this Tmarus spider was guarding her eggs in a chamber she created by bending and webbing together a slender day lily leaf.  She will stay nearby for about a month to protect her eggs from predators.

About the genus Tmarus the BugLady could find very little.  The spiders appear regularly on state biodiversity lists, and there are a bunch of scholarly articles about new species being discovered in different countries around the world (one article from Sri Lanka was titled “Twigs that are not Twigs”).  The BugLady was gratified to find that the spectacular Tmarus marmoreus spider in Australia is, indeed, nicknamed the Octopus spider https://www.brisbaneinsects.com/brisbane_spiders/OctopusCrabSpider.htm.  It hunts by dangling from a line of silk with its front legs poised and ready.

Their knobby bodies are usually well-camouflaged on bark and other vegetation, where they look like buds or broken twigs.  The Field Guide to the Spiders of California and the Pacific Coast States tells us that with “forelegs along either side of a stem, they wait for an insect to wander between them.”  According to the Kansas School Emporium’s Checklist of Kansas Crab SpidersTmarus spiders have been observed eating ants, which most spiders avoid.

Tmarus angulatus, sometimes called the Tuberculated crab spider, is small spider with a body about a half-inch long (females are larger than males) that is found across the US and southern Canada.  Some are pale and some were dark, and the BugLady saw a picture of a gravid female with a dark cephalothorax (front end) and a pale abdomen, with a caption that said that she looked like a spittlebug nest.  Well, maybe.  Here’s a little gallery of shots of Tmarus angulatus looking like the flower head of a rush https://bugguide.net/node/view/646754,

pale-colored https://bugguide.net/node/view/1168821,

in the open https://bugguide.net/node/view/1516412/bgimage,

a male https://bugguide.net/node/view/1516412/bgimage,

oriented with its legs up https://bugguide.net/node/view/1238420/bgimage,

very well camouflaged https://bugguide.net/node/view/1043877/bgimage,

and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1223511/bgimage,

and a nice egg-to-spiderling series https://bugguide.net/node/view/298740/bgimage.

Tmarus angulatus was described and named in 1837 by Baron Charles Athanase Walckenaer (1771 – 1852), who is described as a French civil servant and scientist.  In fact, he squeezed the pursuits of several lifetimes into his 80 years.  He was a geographer who was named Conservator for the Department of Maps at the Royal Library in Paris, was Secretary for life of the Academie des Inscriptions et Belles Lettres (where he introduced the French to the English genre of the biography), was a co-founder of the Societe entomologique de France, member of a group of early anthropologists called the Societe des observateurs de l’homme, was mayor of a section of Paris, found a map of the Americas drawn by Columbus contemporary Juan de la Cosa (the earliest known map of the new World), and was an arachnologist and entomologist (author of Histoire naturelle des insects).

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Summer Flowers Blossom Beautifully at Riveredge

Milkweed attracting a Monarch Butterfly at Riveredge Nature Center

Summertime is in full swing with flowers blooming in the prairies across Riveredge. Many plants have grown beyond eye-level (yes, for even adults!) and we can now watch the enjoy the phenological cascade of flowers that will appear in succession from now through September. Here’s a glimpse of what’s blooming right now across Riveredge.

Spiderwort at Riveredge Nature Center

Wow, Ohio Spiderwort Tradescantia ohiensis just seems to bloom forever. These flowers are now blooming in clusters throughout the prairie. Interestingly, whether blue or purple tells the tale of the air surrounding it. When growing in polluted air, Spiderwort turns from blue to purple.

Butterfly-weed blooming at Riveredge Nature Center

Butterfly Weed Asclepias tuberosa stands out with the bushy glow of its orange flowers. These are a relatively common native plant that does well in gardens. As its name suggests, this plant attracts Monarch Butterflies. Butterfly Weed roots have historically been chewed to cure pulmonary ailments.

Daisy Fleabane at Riveredge Nature Center

Daisy Fleabane Erigeron strigosus is continuing to bloom its small white flowers. This is an extremely long blooming plant – colonies sometimes lasting up to two months. Earlier in the year it was noted that these more often had a pink or purple hue to the petals.

Black-eyed Susan at Riveredge Nature Center

Black-eyed Susan Rudbeckia hirta is what some people might consider the archetypal prairie flower, with its bright yellow leaves radiating straight out like spokes on a wagon wheel. This plant has been bred to show a variety of colors, but here we feature this flower in classic yellow. Parts of this plant have nutritional or remedy value, and portions are not edible.

Queen of the Prairie at Riveredge Nature Center

Queen of the Prairie Filipendula rubra is a fascinating flower to stumble upon with its slight bulbous pink flowers that almost seem to glow in the midday sunlight. These flowers haven’t yet opened and once they do will take on a blustery, bushy appearance.

Purple Coneflowers at Riveredge Nature Center

What would you call a gathering of Pale Purple Coneflowers (other than Echinacea pallida)? A cone-hort? A cone-henge? A cone-vention? These flowers are famous for their unique drooping pink/purple petals. The genus of this plant is named for hedgehogs; referencing the spiny appearance of the central brown portion of the flower.

St. Johns Wort at Riveredge Nature Center

It seems fitting that with its sunny yellow flowers and whimsical collection of anthers, St. John’s wort Hypericum perforatum has been use for years as medicinal cure for depression. This plant has also been mixed with Calendula (among other ingredients) to formulate the popular first-aid cream Hypercal.

Wild Bergamot at Riveredge Nature Center

Wild Bergamot Monarda fistulosa is also known as Bee Balm or Horse Mint, as it is in the mint family. This plant has a variety of medicinal purposes when steeped in a tea. Bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies are attracted to this common resident of prairies and savannas.

Milkweed attracting a Monarch Butterfly at Riveredge Nature Center

Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca is blooming throughout Riveredge, and as common knowledge holds, attracts both larva and winged Monarch Butterflies. Other butterflies also use this species as a nectar source. If you have milkweed in your garden, multiple parts of the plant can be cooked and eaten.

Visit Riveredge for a hike today and see how many blooms you can identify!

Bug o’the Week – Majestic Long-horned Beetle

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady is always excited when she finds an insect she’s never seen before – even more so when it’s a giant, orange and gray “Holy S@#&!” beetle. 

She was moseying along the trail at Riveredge Nature Center at the beginning of July when she saw a flash of orange in the vegetation.  A big flash.  She craned and fidgeted and crossed her fingers while the beetle crawled around, revealing itself by degrees.  After posing for a few shots, it flew out noisily and landed on her jeans for a second, and then moved on. 

It’s a spectacular beetle, (Dr. John Hamilton, writing in The Canadian Entomologist in 1885 says that “this appears to be a rare Cerambyan, and among the choicer.”), but there’s not much information out there about it (it isbig enough and beautiful enough, but apparently, it’s not bad enough to warrant attention). 

To put it in context – with about 390,000 species (25,000-plus in North America), beetles (order Coleoptera) are the largest order in the whole animal kingdom, not just in the Class Insecta.  Long-horned beetles (family Cerambycidae), those darlings of the beetle world (because https://bugguide.net/node/view/199424/bgpage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/674692/bgimage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/128536/bgpage, and https://bugguide.net/node/view/1379236/bgimage, and more), number about 30,000 species worldwide with only about 1,000 in North America.  The MLHB is in the Flower longhorn subfamily Lepturinae, a group of sometimes-dramatically-wedge-shaped longhorns (https://bugguide.net/node/view/131694/bgpage) that hang out on flower tops by day.  There are a dozen species in the genus Stenocorus in North America – more elsewhere.

At 1 ¼” the Majestic long-horned beetle (Stenocorus schaumii) is indeed majestic.  It comes in two colors (https://bugguide.net/node/view/1499994/bgimage) and some are more chiseled than others https://bugguide.net/node/view/6759/bgimage (the BugLady’s MLHB was not svelte), and females are notably larger than males.  It is mostly eastern-ish – bugguide.net says New Brunswick to North Carolina to Manitoba to Oklahoma.  A number of the search hits were from eastern Canada, in French. 

Cerambycid larvae are vegetarians; some are pests of living plants, some feed inside dead or dying wood, and the interests of many do not collide with ours.  MLHB larvae feed/develop in ash, beech, maple, serviceberry, and other hardwoods, and the adults eat nectar and pollen. 

The MLHB was described by LeConte and is one of several insects named for German entomologist Hermann Rudolf Schaum, a go-to guy for all-things beetle in the mid-1800’s, who wrote and corresponded prolifically with American entomologists.  Schaum apparently believed that the Continent should be the clearinghouse for insect classification.  In a history of American entomology called Brethren of the Net: American Entomology, 1840-1880, author Willis Conner Sorenson tells us that “Schaum…..objected to the notion that ‘American insects ought to be described by American entomologists.’  The result, he said, had been the proliferation of isolated descriptions, a practice that had been characterized by Schaum’s colleague Erichson, as ‘the nuisance of science.’  Schaum regretted that American entomologists had added to this nuisance.” 

Entomology as Blood Sport.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady 

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – And Now for Something a Little Different – Slime Molds

Hi, BugFans,

The BugLady wrote this article for a recent newsletter of the Friends of the Cedarburg Bog (an organization that would love your support).

Slime molds are strange and wonderful life forms that can exist as tiny, single cells, but can also form a mass of cells that acts like an organism – and moves!

Back in the days when fungi (now placed in their own Kingdom) were classified as plants, slime molds were classified with the fungi. Today, slime molds defy exact classification (slime molds can’t be plants because slime molds eat!). They’re placed in a catch-all group that some people call the kingdom Protista, made up of often unrelated single-celled or colonial single-celled organisms that have similar structures and life styles. Australian researcher Chris Reid calls Protists “a taxonomic group reserved for everything we don’t understand.” They’ve been around for a billion years.

They may be so small that they live their whole lives under our radar, moving slowly through the soil; or they may aggregate to form bright yellow or white, spongy blobs on the forest floor, or pink spheres on decaying wood, or tiny, brown cattail shapes on branches. Or, they might start as the first and end as the second. They have great names, like wolf’s milk, tapioca, pretzel, white coral, red raspberry, chocolate tube, dog vomit and scrambled egg slime.

Two of the main groups are the cellular slime molds (Dictyosteliida) and the plasmodial or acellular slime molds (Myxogastria). Both kinds start out as tiny, single-celled amoeba-like critters in soil or rotting material, both can use chemicals to communicate, and both, at some sign from their environment, may congregate and go into reproductive mode, transforming from a single-celled organism to a giant “megacell” (one scientist calls them “a bag of amoebas”). They feed on bacteria, algae, and fungal spores and help organic materials to decompose. They are eaten by many small animals (there are little, shiny, brown beetles apparently feeding – and cavorting – in the pink slime mold), and some are said to be edible by humans.

Their orientation is deliberate; their ability to pick the most direct route to food mimics the efficient layout of expressways and railroad systems; they were the inspiration for the Sci-fi movie “The Blob;” the math that describes their orderly aggregation is applied to video games; and some can anticipate change, learn to solve mazes and remember. And when they are chopped up, they reassemble and remember.

For more information, see

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/brainless-slime-molds/ and

https://www.pbs.org/newshour/science/the-sublime-slime-mold and

http://www.wisconsinmushrooms.com/.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Bug o’the Week – The Dance Fly

Howdy, BugFans,

The BugLady loves these fancy little flies (and their habitat preferences, for the damp and the dappled, are similar to hers).  Dance flies are abroad in June, and they are one of the BugLady’s “nemesis bugs;” they seem to object to being in focus, but this small spider managed to capture one.  They starred in a BOTW episode at the very end of June, ten years ago: https://uwm.edu/field-station/dance-fly-family-empididae/

Go outside – look at bugs.  Tell the BugLady what you see.

Kate Redmond, The BugLady

Bug of the Week archives:
http://uwm.edu/field-station/category/bug-of-the-week/

Findings of Milwaukee Public Museum Riveredge BioBlitz

Researchers at the Riveredge BioBlitz.

24-Hour BioBlitz Uncovers Stunning Species Diversity at Riveredge

Scientists from Milwaukee Public Museum arrived on the afternoon of Friday, June 14 to spend 24 hours at Riveredge Nature Center for the 2019 BioBlitz – a quest to discover as many species as possible in 24 hours.

MPM research scientists, students, and lovers of nature visited Riveredge to forage throughout the Center’s 379 acres of various restored habitats to find as many plants and animals as possible.

Riveredge Land Manager Matt Smith discussing species with botanists Dr. Robert Freckmann and Dr. Lawrence Leitner.

Riveredge has “enormous richness”

Dr. Robert Freckmann, who began his botany career in 1959 and for whom the Herbarium at University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point is named, was one of many researchers on-hand to participate in the 24-hour celebration of science. “It’s going to be interesting to see how many species we can come up with in 24 hours, but I think that’s more a function of the number of botanists and their level of energy than it is the place,” said Dr. Freckmann.

“This place has enormous richness, and all we can do [in 24 hours] is get a small sample of it,” added Freckmann.

BioBlitz at Riveredge Findings

Both MPM and Riveredge staff were pleased to document a grand total of 1,254 species within 24 hours across the Riveredge property! This total is the highest number of any of the 5 total locations surveyed since MPM started its annual BioBlitz program. A playful debate ensued about whether to include examples of the Lake Sturgeon, which Riveredge raises onsite for the Return the Sturgeon program.

BioBlitz Species Highlights

UW-Madison mycological students determining species at Riveredge.
UW-Madison students Carl Kemp and Celeste Huff determining fungi species.
  • Dr. John Zaborsky | UW-Madison – reported 536 plant species including garden plants, highlights include Small Yellow lady’s-slipper & rare Handsome Sedge.
  • Gina LaLiberte | Wisconsin DNR – found 120 species of microplants including cynobacteria, red algae, and several species of euglena in the Vernal Pond.
  • Dr. Suzanne Joneson | UW-Waukesha – found 31 species of lichens, which she surmised indicates a “happy forest.”
  • Birds 80 species seen, including Ruffed Grouse and Pileated Woodpecker.
  • Mammals – 16 species, including humans, the highlight being a Southern Flying Squirrel.
  • 343 species of insects were discovered; of which 180 were Lepidopterans (moths & butterflies).
  • Findings of 21 species of fish (22 if you count sturgeon). Highlights include Brown Trout, Iowa Darter, and Mottled Sculpin.
  • Riveredge was the first of the BioBlitz locations surveyed where invasive Jumping Worms were not found.
MPM BioBlitz at Riveredge Nature Center

Reaping Biodiversity Benefits through Long-term Conservation

“Riveredge was one of the first locations in the region to begin restoring habitats, and we have such a diversity of habitat in this immediate area – from wetlands to dry and wet prairies to creeks, marshland, forests and woodlands – and of course the mile of Milwaukee River banks for which Riveredge is named,” said Jessica Jens, Riveredge Executive Director. “I’m pleased by the number of species documented – I was hoping we’d surpass 1,200, but must admit I’m not entirely surprised by the huge number of species that were found,” said Jens.

University of Marquette students speak with a birder overlooking a restored prairie Friday evening. At that moment he’d reported 23 bird species.

“I see the passion, care, and work that goes into our 379 acres everyday and these findings are evidence of not only the work we put in every day at Riveredge, but the legacy of caretakers who came before us,” said Jens.

A Public Science Extravaganza

BioBlitz
BioBlitz participants learning about bees through one of the BioBlitz partners in attendance.

A BioBlitz is a unique occasion in that it’s a science event in which, during a portion, the public is invited to participate and learn alongside researchers. Several partner organizations throughout the region were on-hand to engage the public about populations of local plants, rodents, bees, fireflies, large mammals, and other species.

Farm Pond at Riveredge Nature Center.
A family searches for frogs at Farm Pond during the BioBlitz.

In at least one occasion, members of the public found species that researchers had not yet documented. On Saturday afternoon, a young girl presented researchers with a Painted Lady Butterfly that had yet to be discovered during the BioBlitz.

Researchers at the Vernal Pond
Researchers finding frogs and Tiger Salamander larvae at Vernal Pond.

Riveredge is a Year-round Nature Sanctuary

The BioBlitz only lasted 24 hours, but at Riveredge Nature Center, you can experience this rich tapestry of diverse plants and wildlife year-round. Our 10 miles of trails are open 7 days a week from sunup to sundown for hiking, strolling, birding, sauntering, running, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing. Become a member of Riveredge today and begin exploring your nature!